The Safest Place in All the World to Be
James C. Denison
A “conundrum” is an intricate and difficult problem. For instance, what 11-letter word is pronounced incorrectly by more than 99 percent of Ivy League graduates? “Incorrectly.” Care to try again? I’m sitting at a table. Ten flies are on the table. With one swat, I kill three flies. How many flies are left on the table? The three dead ones–the other seven already flew away. Now aren’t you glad you came to church today?
We’ve been studying biblical images of the church, the world’s only hope. Last week we learned that we are the only salt and light of our decaying, dark world. Today we learn that we are called to be “fishers of men” in that world. I’m interested in what Jesus calls us to do. But I’m even more interested in the fact that he calls us to do it, that great theological conundrum of divine sovereignty and human freedom.
If he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, why does he need to call these men? Why cannot he order them to follow him? Do they have freedom to decide whether or not to follow him? If they can refuse his will for their lives, how is he the Sovereign Lord of the universe?
Does everything happen in life the way God intends for it to? “Everything happens for a reason,” we’re told. “It all works out for the best,” we hear. Is that true? Did God intend for Hurricane Dean to decimate the Yucatan peninsula and the eastern coast of Mexico this week? Did he intend Michael Vick and his accomplices to torture and execute dogs in Virginia? Is the ongoing war in Iraq part of his plan and will? More than 3,700 of our troops have died there. More than 655,000 people, most of them Iraqis, have perished in this conflict.
Will God’s will be done in the upcoming presidential election? Will his will be done for your children away at college or at home in school? With your health and finances and marriage and family? Is the will of God always fulfilled, for Peter and Andrew and you and me? The question is crucial for our lives today, as we’ll soon see.
Hear his call
Our text begins: “Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee” (v. 18). “Walking” in the Greek syntax expresses contemporaneous and continuous action–he was constantly walking around beside the Sea of Galilee, as though he was looking for something or someone.
The Sea of Galilee is a small lake, roughly 13 miles long by six miles at its widest part. It was and is one of the most beautiful bodies of water on earth. But it was one of the least likely places for a rabbi to find new students. Those who lived and worked in this hill country were far from the training schools with their famous rabbis down south in Jerusalem.
These men were no less intelligent than those in the rabbinic schools. But they clearly had chosen lives of labor and business, not academics. MIT doesn’t usually recruit doctoral candidates from the ranchers out in the Davis Mountains. That’s not what ranchers are interested in doing.
Nonetheless, Jesus walked up to “two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew.” They were working at the time, “casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.” They were using the “amphiblaistron,” a net thrown from a boat or shore. It was nine feet across, weighted with lead around its circumference. It sank into the sea, then was drawn up with fish inside. This was hard manual labor–nothing automated or technological about it.
Going on a little farther, he saw James and his brother John “in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets.” They were mending them, washing them, setting them out to dry for the next day’s work.
Jesus said to Peter and Andrew, “Come, follow me.” His words meant “become my students” or “enroll in my school.” In Jesus’ day, students chose their rabbi. A rabbi never went soliciting students. But Jesus called these men specifically to follow him. He did the same with James and John. And all four agreed.
Understand why he calls
The Bible says that “by Jesus all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17). He made the Sea of Galilee, and the fish swimming in it, and the men who were fishing for them.
One day, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11). If he is indeed the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, why did he need to walk the beaches of the Sea of Galilee looking for these men, then call them to follow him and wait while they decided?
If he is truly the Lord of all that is, how can anything happen contrary to his will? But if everything happens according to his will, does this mean that God wanted a hurricane to decimate Mexico and the economy to become a roller coaster and average incomes to fall each of the last five years in America?
By definition, God must either cause or permit all that happens, or he is not God. His perfect or permissive will must be done. Nothing about Hurricane Dean surprised God this week. The fact that you’ve come worship this morning was not news to him. He created time and transcends it, so he knew before time began that you and I would have this conversation today.
In the world he created, everything happened as he intended it to happen.